To examine the effects of overall level and timing of physical activity (PA) on changes from a healthy body mass index (BMI) category over 12 years in young adult women.
Patients and Methods
Participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (younger cohort, born 1973-1978) completed surveys between 2000 (age 22-27 years) and 2012 (age 34-39 years). Physical activity was measured in 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2009 and was categorized as very low, low, active, or very active at each survey, and a cumulative PA score for this 9-year period was created. Logistic regression was used to examine relationships between PA accumulated across all surveys (cumulative PA model) and PA at each survey (critical periods PA model), with change in BMI category (from healthy to overweight or healthy to obese) from 2000 to 2012.
In women with a healthy BMI in 2000, there were clear dose-response relationships between accumulated PA and transition to overweight (P=.03) and obesity (P<.01) between 2000 and 2012. The critical periods analysis indicated that very active levels of PA at the 2006 survey (when the women were 28-33 years old) and active or very active PA at the 2009 survey (age 31-36 years) were most protective against transitioning to overweight and obesity.
These findings confirm that maintenance of very high PA levels throughout young adulthood will significantly reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese. There seems to be a critical period for maintaining high levels of activity at the life stage when many women face competing demands of caring for infants and young children.